Edmund Burke's Views of Irish History

History of European Ideas 41 (3):387-403 (2015)
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Abstract

SummaryAlthough ‘Burke and Irish history’ is a theme which has long been known to modern commentators, it has not necessarily been addressed sufficiently. This essay seeks to put forward a more comprehensive account of Burke's views on Irish history than has previously been offered by scholars. According to Burke, the protection of Christianity had brought flourishing science to seventh- and eighth-century Ireland. Nevertheless, the nation was plunged into a barbarous state after the invasions of the Danes and other northern tribes. Burke's sympathy with the Brehon law was possibly unique, although he was not uncritical of it. Unlike the Irish patriots, his chief concern with historical Ireland was not the origins of the Irish legislature. He was rather most interested in the religious affairs which had continued to plague the nation during history. Throughout his career, Burke considered the Irish Rebellion of 1641 to have been ‘provoked’, and continuously endeavoured to remove the penal laws imposed on the Roman Catholics after the Williamite Conquest of 1689–1691. In his view, despite the substantial increase in prosperity after 1688/9, the series of religious persecutions, as well as other oppressive policies, had still obstructed the further progress of Irish society.

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